RS 1: Ferry County, Washington

Digital Divide Is Wider Than We Think, Study Says

In rural areas such as Ferry County, Washington, the impact of the digital divide can be significantly more pronounced than urban areas such as Austin. Steve Lohr’s article “Digital Divide Is Wider Than We Think, Study Says” (The New York Times, 2018) takes a look at the way a lack of access to broadband internet connection affects this sprawling county. The Federal Communications Commission claims the entire area has access to broadband internet, but Lohr shows this isn’t accurate. Lohr begins by giving an account by Elbert Koontz, the mayor of Republic. Republic is one of the few areas in Ferry County with access to broadband internet, but “go beyond the cluster of blocks in the small town, and the high-speed service drops off quickly” (3). This highlights the main issue with the F.C.C.’s statistics; the model currently used considers an entire area to have access to broadband internet so long as someone there does. In reality, the vast majority of Ferry County residents are forced to drive into town in order to access the internet. Lohr then looks at the importance of access to internet in today’s America, and how severe of an impact these rural areas’ lack of it has. As Lohr puts it, “Fast internet service is crucial to the modern economy, and closing the digital divide is seen as a step toward shrinking the persistent gaps in economic opportunity, educational achievement and health outcomes in America” (7). In areas without decent internet connection, the simplest or even vital tasks such as transporting medical records are difficult to complete. In response to this, Lohr presents a possible solution from Microsoft that may help connect millions of new Americans to the internet. Microsoft’s plan is to “[harness] the unused channels between television broadcasts… to cover greater distances than wireless hot spots” (19). While there are still some obstacles for this technique to truly be effective such as the cost of devices that use these channels, the goals are coming closer to being met as time goes on. In fact, Microsoft is already far past its initial target, and continues to hit higher numbers. Some are worried that this may lead to Microsoft having both an unfair market advantage and government funding, but there are also some smaller companies that will be getting support from the F.C.C. to implement this plan; Declaration Networks has already received monetary commitments from the F.C.C.

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